Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
July 19, 2014 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Are there any organizations out there that take the long view? Like, the really long view? As in influencing policy over decades or centuries?

Every now and then, surfing the web, I'll run into hints of organizations or think-tanks or what have you, that are involved in research that extrapolates dozens or hundreds of years out.

The last thing I saw was on some confessions website years ago, when someone mentioned working at a research place that apparently fell apart when the researchers foresaw a Malthusian apocalypse ahead of us.

I ask because I increasingly get the feeling that nations and corporations are girding their loins for a dystopic future. Maybe it's just paranoia.

On the off chance it's not, anybody know anything, specifically about organizations that are trying to implement long term plans?
posted by atchafalaya to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The Long Now Foundation (website, wiki) is really really long-term, but they're not apocalyptic.

The Millenium Seed Bank and Svalbard Seed Vault.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:05 PM on July 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oops, I posted to fast. Here are some past posts on the subject. Also, the folks working on long-term nuclear waste storage have done some interesting long-term thinking.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:36 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's the pitch drop experiment?
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:06 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Japanese company SoftBank has a 300-year business plan. Some other organizations also have a long term view, though they limit themselves to a published 100-year plan ( Medtronic, for example ).
posted by seawallrunner at 9:22 PM on July 19, 2014

The Project for Existential Risk at Cambridge.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:25 PM on July 19, 2014

The Roman Catholic Church is exactly the kind of organization you're talking about.
posted by Justinian at 10:00 PM on July 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Antoni Gaudi was the architect of La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral in Barcelona. His construction plan began in 1883 and was scheduled to be completed in 2026. Gaudi himself died in 1926 at the age of 73.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:48 PM on July 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nuclear power plants have to take this long view. For example Sellafield, in the UK, was commissioned in the early 1950s. At present workers on the site already include many grand-children of the original employees. Who knows the date by which the final worker may be able to leave the fully decommissioned site - but the company has long term management projects which extend many decades into the future.

An interesting example of a building which has had a massively long period of construction is Milan Cathedral - this took 600 years to be built - from 1386 onwards.
posted by rongorongo at 12:47 AM on July 20, 2014

The Roman Catholic Church is exactly the kind of organization you're talking about.

Hahaha, if only. We're in the midst of a big battle here in Manhattan in which the Archdiocese wants to sell of a bunch of Churches and use the money for current needs. A bunch of people are pointing out that they'll never be able to afford to buy back the real estate and that at the very least they should be holding on to the land and leasing it. But there's definitely short term thinking at work.

Chinese foreign policy is also often cited as an example of folks who think on a longer than normal time- scale.
posted by Jahaza at 6:41 AM on July 20, 2014

Chinese foreign policy is also often cited as an example of folks who think on a longer than normal time- scale.

There's a "Well, maybe" attached to this.

One cite for the alleged long view was the anecdote of Kissinger asking Chou En Lai what he thought were the implications of the French Revolution, to which Chou En Lai responded, too soon to tell.

The alleged punchline came years later when it was suggested that Chou En Lai was referring to the soixante-huitards.

As to the NYC diocese - just because a branch office is contemplating some uncertain fiscal moves does not mean the enteprise as a whole is going short term. I mean, compare NYC's moves with the Church of England's recent decision to drop centuries of tradition and allow women bishops.

NASA, arguably. So long as they have the money.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:03 AM on July 20, 2014

Nuclear waste disposal
posted by jewzilla at 9:57 AM on July 20, 2014

Urban planning, both in practical and think-tank terms, takes a longer view than most. You're talking about streets, parks, sewers, etc. that may be in use for decades at least and are pretty certain to outlive you. This manifests in things like pushes for transportation options (say, bikes, or high-speed rail) that may not even come to fruition for decades. Look at your local city's planning department and they probably have streets mapped out through farm fields, because someday.

On a somewhat broader scale you have things like water-management projects. New York is looking into ways to protect lower Manhattan from another Sandy-like storm surge. There's a private proposal called the Big U that will ring the bottom of the island (which is also the lowest elevation), and part of that might get built on the Lower East Side. This is modeled somewhat on lessons learned by the Dutch, who similarly take a long view on water issues.

There are other groups working with issues of climate change and energy policy that likely fit your criteria.
posted by dhartung at 1:22 PM on July 20, 2014

The Netherlands added a province a few years ago. It's called Flevoland. A hundred years ago it was under water, but starting in 1916 they've been working on dikes to enclose it, and spent decades draining it, then flooding it with fresh water, and draining it again, over and over -- in order to remove the salt from the soil.

They completed the process in 1986, and started selling the land and otherwise permitting immigrants. Currently it has a dry area of 1419 km^2 and a population of 395,000. When the Dutch get serious, they really mean it. (They have a saying: "God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.")

Another example of Dutch long-term engineering is the Delta Works. In 1953 there was a terrible flood when dikes failed. The Delta Works is a monumental civil engineering effort designed to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. It began shortly after that flood, and officially was completed in 2010.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:38 PM on July 20, 2014

These days many people think of the Mayans as vanished culture who left behind a plainly incorrect prediction that the demise of the world to take place in 2012. In fact the "extinct" race currently numbers about 7 million and 2012 was merely a point marking the end of the 5,200 year "4th age" - the 4th of 5th on their 26,000 year long Nimahaab or long count calendar. The longest measurements on the long count are claimed to date back a billion billion times further than the time between now and the big bang.

Nobody could accuse them of short term planning.

The Mayans who compiled the calendar where both shaman and astrologers (the 2012 event was correlated to coincide with planetary alignments in the solar system). Their calendar system is denoted by a series of interlocking wheels (the only wheels the ancient Mayans used) and it has been in continual use since those predictions were made about 2,600 years ago. People are probably most familiar with the long count - but there are also a number of others - notably the 260 day tzolk'in calendar which is used for agricultural, spiritual and astrological planning (for example today is the day of N'oj) and the Haab calendar which is synchronised with the solar year.

The Mayan long count calendar has been taken up by every kind of wide-eyed conspiracy theorist and predatory History Channel documentary maker - and its details are also subject to academic debate - but, for your question, it might be worthwhile teasing out what the Mayans themselves appear to have said: on December 22nd 2012 we started the 5th cycle of the sun, Job Ajaw. This is supposed to mark a time of transition from the fourth age (of water - and dominated by masculine energies) to the new age of ether where masculine and feminine energies move into balance. It is also supposed to mark the return of the mythical beings called the B’alameb, who are the guardians of the 4 corners of the universe - so look out for those guys!
posted by rongorongo at 12:11 AM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

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